Jake Shimabukuro lights up 'Grand Ukulele'

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

It would be so easy to chalk all ukulele music up to a novelty act.

After all, the ukulele has been sort of a second-class musical instrument outside of Hawaii. But Jake Shimabukuro, widely acknowledged as a uke virtuoso, is changing all of that and inspiring other musicians to take it up.

"I think it's really cool for the instrument," he said modestly about the acclaim he has received. "People are starting to see the instrument beyond the stereotypes. I'm just thrilled to play every chance I get."

Shimabukuro credits his mother with exposing him to all types of music while he was growing up in Honolulu. From Hawaiian to blues to rock, Shimabukuro was fascinated, buying himself books to further his education about all instruments, including the oft-maligned uke. Shimabukuro never had an aversion to the instrument and can't understand why others might, considering it's A-list fans.

Onstage
Jake Shimabukuro
Where: The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Info: Sold out at press time, but tickets might be available through resellers; 703-549-7500; birchmere.com

"George Harrison loved the ukulele," said Shimabukuro, who met Harrison's widow, Olivia, when she attended one of his concerts. "She was telling me these great stories about parties they had where George Harrison got out his uke and they all started jamming together."

Shimabukuro is such a master of the instrument that Eddie Vedder recently praised him in a Rolling Stone article. That's likely no surprise to Jimmy Buffet, who invited the uke player to open for him several years ago.

Now, Shimabukuro is touring behind his latest album "Grand Ukulele," which was produced by legendary producer/engineer Alan Parsons, best known for his work on Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," The Beatles' "Abbey Road" and his own highly successful solo project.

Parsons expanded Shimabukuro's sound, bringing in a 29-piece orchestra and a big-name rhythm section.

But through it all, Shimabukuro and his uke remain the stars.

"The best thing was that, even with all those people, we recorded everything live with no overdubs," said Shimabukuro. "It was great, tracking live with an orchestra and a rhythm section. We picked up on each other's subtle emotional cues -- you could feel everyone breathing together. It was like the old days of recording -- when everyone tracked together -- there's a certain magic that happens."

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